Dr. Bao-Thy N. Grant, Ducks’ Oral Surgeon

The Trade The adult face has 32 teeth, plus 14 bones, from strong-as-granite (mandible) to paper-thin (lacrimal), overlaid with more than 40 muscles. Then there’s the puck: 6 ounces of vulcanized rubber, frozen to reduce bouncing, and traveling 90 mph. That’s why the National Hockey League requires an oral surgeon at every game.

Hockey, the good doctor insists, isn’t as hard on the teeth as we think. But that doesn’t mean the 37-year-old Grant does no suturing: “You’ve got sticks and pucks flying around—potential for a lot of soft-tissue damage.” Originally from the South Bay, Grant left SoCal to finish her training, and returned—to Newport Beach and the Anaheim Ducks. She’s been stitching up players at home games since 2008, when she joined the Center for Oral Reconstruction and Education in Orange. Come game time, look for Grant behind the glass, sometimes cringing: “I can deal with the trauma, but seeing the impact out on the ice—it still makes me anxious.”

How did you train for this? I did four years of general dentistry at USC, then an extra four years of surgical training at a Level 1 hospital trauma center in the Bronx, which covered anesthesia, general surgery, plastic surgery, oral surgery, and [ear, nose, and throat] medicine. We’d get gunshot wounds, bad facial trauma, and severe pathology requiring significant reconstruction. A tough neighborhood, but a great experience.

Good preparation for taking care of a hockey team. [Laughs] Luckily our hockey players are very safe, so we don’t get that type of massive trauma.

What sort of injuries do you see most? Knocked-out teeth aren’t as common anymore. These days there’s a lot of good protective wear: custom-fitted mouth guards, face shields, and helmets. It’s usually facial lacerations—from a stick or puck to the face—midface injuries, and nasal bone fractures. A puck to the face is like a flying bullet. A frozen bullet. It can split a lip, but thanks to mouth guards, teeth are usually safe.

But the popular image of a hockey player is a burly guy with missing teeth.
People do lose teeth in the league. It happens. But I have never taken out a fractured tooth from one of our players. Honestly! If I’ve extracted a tooth, it’s been associated with an old injury, or root canal—and some of the younger players have had me pull wisdom teeth—but never a fracture sustained in a game.

I was going to ask you for a count of most teeth lost during a game.
The gear has really changed things.

You work on everything involving the face? Not just the teeth? Correct. If there is an injury to the mouth, I can handle that. If the patient gets a stick to the face, I have to suture him quickly. And the other two team physicians and I are on staff at nearby hospitals. So if we encounter a broken jaw, or orbital fracture, we can expedite admission. But that’s rare.

What does the most damage: fights, ice, pucks, or those 5-foot graphite sticks? Generally speaking, the stick. We once had a player injured from a skate blade to the forearm. That was an emergency. They’re playing on skates with double-edged blades as sharp as knives. Skate injuries are rare but serious.

Do goalies get the worst of it? Goalies are the safest because of all the added protection. I’ve never had to repair any facial trauma on a goalie.

Do you attend every game? Do you bring a black doctor’s bag? I go to every home game, but there is no black bag. The organization has everything we need, right there, to handle an immediate acute trauma. There’s X-ray imaging, sutures, and we abide by sterile technique. Anything we need, it’s available.

I’ve always imagined that removing a tooth is pretty violent. You have pliers, the patient is in a headlock ... That’s the stereotype, but it’s just a skill: Surgical principles are met, and taking out a tooth is very straightforward. I’m 5-foot-1. My players are tall men—200 pounds or more—and they think, “How is this short little Asian lady going to pull my tooth out?” But it’s surgery, and it doesn’t require a lot of strength.

What are these guys like as patients? Do they turn down Novocain? The players are wonderful—all of them—just nice young men who have a good work ethic, and are very polite. None of the Ducks has ever refused a local anesthetic; it makes suturing a lot more comfortable. And we don’t use Novocain anymore—lidocaine is the standard anesthetic.

Most rewarding task? Draining abscesses. When you do that, you know that you’re really helping the patient—the relief is immediate. It’s not pretty, but you asked!

Favorite part of the job? The camaraderie. It’s a wonderful organization … great players and administrators. The Ducks are involved in a lot of service programs and charity. I’m very proud to have followed Dr. Jeffrey Pulver, who died in 2010.

Always been a hockey fan? I enjoy the game, but I’m still learning the rules.

Any pregame rituals? I pray before every game. I do! First I make sure everything is nice and sterile and clean, and then I pray. As doctors, the safety of the players is foremost in our minds at every game. We are rooting for them to win, but our role is to provide care so that those players are safe. I’m like the den mother.

Photo Illustration by Sean Teegarden

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.